THE NEW HOPEVILLE COMICS
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
In his "Author's Note" on the back of the program, Nate Weida, the
mastermind behind the new musical The New Hopeville Comics, writes that
the show "spans my frivolous twenty-first year. This project has mostly
been my journal regarding every thought, question and concern of that
wild past year." Indeed, Hopeville seethes with a determined feeling of
self-catharsis. It's also buoyant with youth, ambition, and invention,
all three of which go a long way toward overcoming Hopeville's
August 15, 2002
After breaking up with his girlfriend, comic book artist Peter (Josh Tyson) discontinues his popular title, The Hopeville Comics, in favor of something more personal—The New Hopeville Comics. In the idyllic town of Hopeville, everyone is happy, and it never rains. They even have their own superhero, Perfect Man (Jason Karn). But not all is well in Hopeville. Two young women, Molly (Anne-Caitlin Donohue) and April (Megan Lewis), try coming to terms with their love for each other. And, three scheming villains—appropriately named Sex (Boise Holmes), Drugs (composer Weida), and Rockenroll (Tristan Yonce)—plan to take over the town. When Perfect Man fails to stop them, the citizens of Hopeville must either join together to defeat the Corruptors, or lose the town in a haze of hedonism and debauchery.
Hopeville has a lot of things going for it: a shameless and enthusiastic cast; a load of originality and ambition; terrific, propulsive, melodic, feverish music, which draws on many influences (including 1960s Aretha Franklin, 1970s Stevie Wonder, and jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi); and an eight-piece band, The Commander Squish Orchestra, that plays like there's no tomorrow.
Despite the abundance of talent, Hopeville doesn’t work very well. The songs function more like pop songs than musical theater songs: they emote aplenty, but don't move the story forward or develop character. An excess of pop music vocal embellishments crush whatever meaning the lyrics may have. Weida also never clarifies whose story he's telling, opting to tell many instead of one. Director Steve Royal, whose work is of the line-up-straight-and-face-forward variety, fails to help clarify Hopeville's point of view dilemma. And, Carrie Plew's choreography indicates that she doesn't yet understand the function of dance in musical theater (i.e., to move the story forward and/or to develop character).
There's no question that Weida is immensely talented. Hopeville is a worthwhile project that shows a lot of potential. But, he needs to learn more about storytelling. At this point, he can either give Hopeville the major tune-up it needs in order to become the moving, substantial work he intends it to be, or he can credit Hopeville as the piece he needed to write in order to grow artistically and move on to the next one. The choice is his.